Legal Opinion: Love is... signing on the dotted line before marriage

Family lawyers are advising on more pre-nuptial contracts than ever before. Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, shows how couples can take early action to avoid a messy divorce

Tomorrow is the one day of the year when the head is given over to matters of the heart. But the thousands of couples who pledge their troth on St Valentine's Day may find it would pay to spend a little time proposing the idea of a pre-nuptial agreement too.

Imported from the United States, the so-called "love contract" has recently gained ground in the public consciousness and the family law courts. Although it is not legally binding, the Court of Appeal, in a case last December, showed that if both parties had given their free consent to the terms of a contract, then the court would try to honour it.

The decision came in a multi-million-pound divorce battle between a 62-year-old property tycoon, Stuart Crossley, and his wife Susan, who signed a detailed pre-nuptial contract just weeks before their January 2006 wedding. Mrs Crossley, a three-time divorcee who separated from her husband 14 months later, has questioned whether that agreement was binding, on the grounds that Mr Crossley had failed to disclose all his financial assets.

Lord Justice Thorpe, Deputy Head of Family Justice, emphasised the growing importance of pre-nuptial agreements in backing a decision designed to speed up resolution of the case. The court ruled that both individuals were "mature adults" who had brought sizeable personal fortunes to the marriage; Mr Crossley has disclosed assets totalling around £45m, while his wife is estimated to be worth £18m.

Mrs Crossley claimed that Mr Crossley, represented by the leading family law lawyer Mark Harper, of Withers, failed to disclose the full extent of his wealth before she signed their pre-nuptial agreement, and might be hiding tens of millions of pounds in offshore accounts in places such as Monaco and Andorra.

Her lawyers argued that requiring her claims to be aired in a single day, as authorised by the court, would in effect elevate their pre-nuptial agreement to a "knock-out blow", blocking her from presenting oral evidence or a fresh valuation of Mr Crossley's assets. Lord Justice Thorpe disagreed, arguing that the pre-marital agreement went to the very heart of any settlement. Mrs Crossley is understood to have now abandoned her claim against her husband, leaving the contract intact.

The barrister Joanna Goodall, a matrimonial law expert at Mills & Reeve, says the case could have important ramifications for pre-nuptial contracts in all marriages, not just ones where both spouses are independently wealthy. But she added: "In a case where both parties have significant wealth which was disclosed at the time the agreement was entered into, it seems unlikely that any such non-disclosure, even if proved, will necessarily render the agreement null and void."

The Court of Appeal approved the approach adopted by the judge at first instance to require the wife to set out her arguments as to why the pre-marital agreement is of little or no significance in the exercise of judicial discretion at an early stage.

The Crossley case builds on a High Court ruling three years ago in which a former model lost a £1.6m claim for compensation against her wealthy husband. Setting out new tests for agreements between the super-rich, the judge upheld a contract signed the day before the couple's wedding limiting the wife's claim to £120,000.

The court heard that Mr and Mrs K, from west London, married shortly after Mrs K, 28, became pregnant. Mr K, a chartered surveyor with assets estimated to be worth £100m, only agreed to the marriage after the father of the bride put pressure on him not to have a child out of wedlock.

r.verkaik@independent.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup